THERE’S a running in-house joke at Hartlepool United, one which everyone wants an end to.

Luke Williams has played 66 minutes of football this season. That’s his sum total since signing for Pools back in August 2018.

The wait for his return to action from a hamstring injury goes on.

He signed under Matthew Bates and never played, as he was troubled by a knee injury. He managed seven minutes under Craig Hignett, 23 under caretaker Antony Sweeney and, so far for Dave Challinor has 33 minutes recorded.

There’s no set date on his return, no timescale to get back to first-team football. Two weeks away as they say at Pools.

“Luke is progressing quite well and running, he needs a hamstring deficiency resolving and getting it as strong as his right one,’’ admitted Challinor.

“It’s a little bit of a running joke with chairman and chief executive is two weeks and he’s back. Two weeks seems to be two weeks since the start of January, but that’s where you hope to be and we monitor it weekly. There’s different tests to check if the discrepancy is close and closer and we need to get to that point before he’s ready.’’

Pools travel to Solihull today for tomorrow’s game, and while they train at Aston Villa before their overnight stay, Williams will remain at home.

Luke Molyneux, the other natural spark in the Pools squad, returned to the starting XI last weekend and is back after ankle damage in pre-season. The prospect of both Lukes in the side is a tantalising one for Challinor.

“It’s frustrating with Luke – we want as many match winners as you can in your side and you have to look at the long-term and how it affects the dynamic of the team and how it affects Luke,’’ he mused.

“That can bring its own problems with luxury players in the side and his best position. The dynamic with other players changes and that’s important.

“To have a little glimpse of what he can do is exciting as we want him back to that and not just to that but improve him on that.

“His aim is to get himself fit, get in our team and then look to higher. Then recognise what the requirements are not just to be a Hartlepool United player but to get back to where he was and higher.

“I hope he will be back soon, not with us in two weeks but back on the grass and be back among the lads and for someone out for a long time that’s the first step.

“Then it gives you fresh motivation to kick on from there.’’

Challinor last week set his players a target of eight wins from their last 12 games to make the play-offs. “I said eight but I’d take 12,’’ he quipped yesterday.

He is currently talking to players at Victoria Park about plans for next season. Gary Liddle and Mark Shelton are both on loan and both keen to stay longer-term.

Challinor wants them both to remain too.

He said: “Mark is here and we are talking with lots of players for next season. Shelts is a Salford player, contracted to the end of the season and they have an option on him. We know his agent well and have had conversations over what we would like to do and he has spoke to Salford about what he would like to do.

“He’s contracted there until the end of June and if we wanted to sort something out legally we couldn’t do it anyway.

“It’s an on-going conversation with a lot of lads here – same with Lidds really and if we can get things in place and agreements in place, us, players, representatives, a gentleman’s agreement as such then we try and get things sorted.’’